Do you remember that Visa card commercial back in 2002 where James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) rented a tuk-tuk, those sputtering three-wheeled open-air taxis to cut through the traffic and catch up with his date Zhang Ziyi in Bangkok and how the tuk-tuk collapsed to the ground from fatigue? I always thought that commercial was exaggerated but after I had my first tuk-tuk ride in Bangkok, I understood why James Bond picked up the tuk-tuk.
Before my first tuk-tuk ride a few months ago, I had visions of going around Bangkok streets at a leisurely pace while I shoot photos of the street side sceneries to my heart’s content. Little did I know that I would spend the next few minutes in a half-sitting, half-squatting position holding on to my bag and camera and for life.
We approached one of the long lines of tuk-tuk outside the Wat Pho Temple of the Reclining Buddha and my buddy Rolly who can understand some Thai language negotiated with three or four tuk-tuk drivers before one hesitantly agreed to drive us a few streets away for 200 baht. We got into the back seat and the driver kicked the tuk-tuk into life.
I was getting my camera ready when the tuk-tuk leaped into the main street and careened down the street, weaving in and out of the traffic like it was the end of the world and we were racing against it. At that moment I think I understood why a lot of the tuk-tuks have screens around them looking like running chicken coops–so passengers or parts of them won’t fly out on the streets.
I must have been thinking about riding a kalesa (horse-drawn carriage. I alighted from the tuk-tuk when we reached our destination with my knees shaking and my hands numb from holding on to the handles too tight. I was not able to take even one blurry photo.
Until you have ridden a tuk-tuk and go for a mad ride all over the streets, you won’t learn how to say your last prayers but it is one wild, daring ride that you should try to complete your Bangkok experience.
Tuk-tuks never die, but you will if you don’t hold on to the railing and keep your bags and hands and feet and head intact and safe inside.
One piece of advice–don’t ever ride a tuk-tuk without first agreeing on the price. Learn to negotiate and haggle. It’s funny how the word tuk means “cheap” in Thai, but tuk-tuk rides are never cheap. You’re better off and more comfortable riding in air-conditioned metered taxis around the city. If you really need to ride a tuk-tuk you can hail one passing on the street and try to avoid those who are waiting outside tourist sites.
I gave the tuk-tuk a couple more chances to ride, and it was still the same. Different drivers and different units but you get the same madness and same sky-high prices.
Maybe not all of them are mad drivers but I guess we picked the ones who are. Tuk-tuks have become a symbol of Thailand and though they don’t have the best of reputations it’s worth experiencing one wild ride in your lifetime. Don’t leave Thailand without riding in one.